WASHINGTON -- China's official media have stepped up criticism of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's impending visit to a remote island chain in the South Pacific, complaining that American saber-rattling is disturbing a tranquil region.
One day before Clinton is to attend a regional forum in the Cook Islands to demonstrate a new U.S. commitment, the Chinese Communist Party's newspaper, the People's Daily, said her reported decision to show up with 50 aides and an aircraft carrier was "not very appropriate."
"The South Pacific has been at peace since World War II and has rarely been troubled with security problems. ... This is not what they need," an article said. "What they really need is investment and technology -- something the US cannot offer them" because of its financial woes, the article said.
The People's Daily article referred to reports by several regional news outlets that a U.S. aircraft carrier would provide "logistical support" to Clinton during her one-day visit. A Navy spokeswoman said Thursday that the aircraft carrier George Washington left Japan on Aug. 20 for a five-month deployment in the western Pacific, but she declined to confirm that the carrier would have any role in Clinton's visit.
Clinton is due to arrive in the Cook Islands on Friday for the 16-nation Pacific Island Forum, a gathering that this year is drawing representatives of nearly 60 nations. It comes as the Obama administration is stepping up its involvement across the Pacific to offset China’s growing diplomatic and economic influence.
But U.S. intentions to increase diplomatic and military ties have disturbed Beijing, which has been wary about the administration's announced "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region, and about recent U.S. support for Asian nations that have challenged Chinese territorial claims to resource-rich areas in the South China Sea.
The People's Daily said the U.S. approach is part of a "back to Asia policy, and its target is China. ... The US may have decided that its biggest ally in the region, Australia, is no longer enough to hold China at bay."
Clinton is the first U.S. secretary of State to visit the Cook Islands, a self-governing democracy that is in free association with New Zealand. It will be her first stop on a trip that is also to include visits to China, Russia, Indonesia, Brunei and East Timor. Officials say she will discuss the South China Sea disputes at several of the stops.
The official New China News Agency also took a shot at Clinton, saying in a commentary that "Washington has resorted to diplomatic, economic and strategic means, which Clinton has dubbed 'smart power,' to create disturbances in the Asia Pacific region."
The column said Washington "intends to benefit from stirring up disputes among nations," but warned that "U.S. power is declining and it hasn't enough economic strength or resources to dominate the Asia-Pacific region."
-- Paul Richter and David S. Cloud
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug. 6. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press